Winter in Cairns can get a bit choppy!

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It doesn`t all go our way with this Travelpod thing you know. Cairns has a beautiful beach-side, man-made lagoon ideal for a cooling dip on these sun-drenched winter afternoons and the day we arrived...they closed it for 6 weeks for maintenance! So we`ll just have to make do with the pool at the hostel to soothe away the stresses of all that sight seeing and souvenir shopping.

One thing that definitely was open for our visit was Cairns Wildlife Dome, perched high on the roof of the iconic Reef Hotel Casino. Basically a large, walk-through aviary the Dome is a 20m high glass structure enclosing a replicated rainforest environment where birds such as parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, doves and kookaburras fly freely about your head and pademalons, water dragons and 'reluctant flyers' like the bush stone curlew roam around your feet.

We also got to meet a few rainforest dwelling reptiles 'up close and personal'. There was Bumpy the Blue Tongue lizard (or skink more correctly) who, not surprisingly has a bright blue tongue, Nigie the Water Python, absolutely beautiful in her irridescent olive coloured skin and Snappy the 3 year old, 1 metre long Estuarine Crocodile who is already aggressive enough to have his mouth taped shut for his 'meet and greet' appearances. We both got to hold Snappy and for a minute or two Paul had a rather fetching 'Nigie necklace' as she flicked her tongue about to see if he would be good to eat. There were also three much larger pythons on show, unusually active for zoo inhabitants, and we watched the 2 amethystine pythons slither across their tank and coil themselves up in the corner.

Scruffy learnt why it's not a good idea to wander off by himself, as we found him face to face with this handsome fella. Fortunately it's a Freshwater croc not his grandad Goliath the saltie who was upstairs catching a few rays before tea time. Goliath is an impressive 4.5m, 600 kilo killing machine, who looks rather docile and relaxed but is actually capable of incredible turns of speed and has split second reactions. Remarkably, Goliath has reached this size despite only being fed a chicken wing every other day. If he had a really big meal like a whole chicken, he wouldn`t need to eat for 6 months! An ability most backpackers would be grateful for.

Unlike most backpackers we decided against the hugely popular Whitsundays Sailing, partly because we'd had enough of boat trips, certainly because we'd had enough of other backpackers but mostly because we knew we needed the money for something else. This is it.

Our magical day started as we were picked up from our hostel and taken to the Reef Fleet Marina for our weigh-in and safety briefing. After complementary drinks and nibbles a member of the crew ushered us outside and following a brief pause for photo's we were strapped in and ready for our journey to Port Douglas. No 53 seater coach for us, or even a common old aeroplane, our incredible journey took place in a Bell 206B Jetranger helicopter and as we rose from the helipad, strangers gathered on the pier waved us off and we felt like celebrities.

As the butterflies in our tummies settled we looked at each other in amazement, not quite believing that we were actually flying over Cairns in a helicopter, just the two of us (and the pilot,obviously), and then started to look around at the incredible views on offer. We looked back across Cairns as we neared the airport and could hear our pilot, Terry, talking to Air Traffic Control in our headsets. We followed the unspoilt coastline, with views of lushious green rainforest-clad hills to our left and wide open ocean to our right separated by a narrow road and a thin belt of sand beneath us. As we approached Port Douglas after a magnificent 20 minute flight we were so excited, and amazed that we`d actually taken it all in.

Although the time went quickly, it wasn`t over before it began like we thought it might be. As we came into land at the heliport it was such a fantastic feeling that we`d just flown in a helicopter - how cool is that?! As we thanked Terry for the amazing experience his response was "My pleasure guys, but the best is still to come." As we said our final farewells, the ground crew unbuckled us and hurried us away from the spinning blades of our Jetranger towards...the spinning blades of a Robinson R44 which it turned out would be our second private helicopter of the day!!

We lifted off and headed North towards the Daintree River, following the coastal road. We got an amazing look at the twisty Daintree and could even see the cable ferry making its way across. We could just make out a crowd of people gathered at the Alexandra Range lookout and we got a better look at the Low Isles and Snapper Island, named because it resembles a giant crocodile when viewed from the South. We could see the prominent headland of Cape Tribulation jutting out to sea and the beautiful secluded sands of Cow Bay before we flew East, out over the ocean.

We could see a few small boats on the vast expanse of water beneath us, and the conditions were just perfect - blue sky, practically no wind and barely a ripple on the ocean`s surface. Even our local pilot, Greg, commented on how rare such still conditions are.

And then came the sight that really took our breath away. Our first glimpse of the remarkable Great Barrier Reef from the air. The beautiful Undine Reef, with its pristine white sand cay, is a sight to behold. Impossible to describe (all suggestions gratefully received) we'll let the pictures do the talking, but what we will say is that you can see why the GBR is one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Greg made a slow lap of Undine Cay before following the reef further out towards our destination. As we went along we were looking out for sharks, turtles and rays which can often be seen in the shallow water around the reefs, and we were rewarded with the sight of two turtles feeding.

The views didn't get any less spectacular and we were rather awe-struck by the whole experience. Trying to put into words how we felt and how stunning the sights were gave us a few problems but Greg assured us that everyone gets tongue tied by the beauty of it and by his own admission he's got "the best job in the world!" The Quicksilver pontoon on Agincourt Reef at the very outer edge of the GBR slowly came into view and our 40 minute flight drew to an end. The floating helipad looked tiny on our approach but Greg made it look easy and we touched down gently as the boat pulled up alongside to transfer us to the pontoon where our adventure would continue. Stepping out of the helicopter we felt on top of the world and the euphoria didn't wear off in a hurry!

After a quick buffet lunch aboard the Quicksilver catamaran we pulled on our masks and flippers and once again found ourselves snorkelling in the crystal clear, turquoise waters of the GBR. Sadly the rising water temperature of the sea has bleached a lot of the colour from the coral so although the structures are still impressive, there just isn't the array of colour that we had hoped to see. That said, the snorkelling was still amazing and we saw many different species of fish, including clownfish, parrotfish and a large maori wrasse affectionately known as Wally. We had to be careful not to venture too far, as we were pretty close to the edge of the continental shelf , where the water goes from 20-30m deep to over 2000m (yes, 2km)!!!

We also took a ride on the semi-sub, a purpose built vessel with a glass hull where you sit a metre or so underwater while you're taken around the reef and can see what a snorkeller sees without getting wet. There was just time for a final dip before the air horn sounded to signal that it was time to board the catamaran for the more conventional boat cruise (still very calm water) to Port Douglas and coach from there to Cairns. This gave us plenty of time to reflect on our truly wonderful day and with the combination of an hour in the air, 3 hours on the reef and the most serene ocean cruise we've ever experienced we know this is another set of memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
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scruffyandco on

Julie`s Mum and Dad said
What shade of green is most appropriate? Envious doesn't do it justice, what a fantastic experience!

We absolutely love seeing these pictures and reading about your exploits, keep 'em coming and keep doing these incredible things.

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